in On the Art of Storytelling

Eighties Eruption: Reflections on a Dazzling Decade

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Published on the International School Manila website for the 2003 reunion:

It’s been nearly 20 years since I last signed a Kawayan yearbook, and the further into the millennium I get, I think of a comment a fellow senior made: “The ‘80s is the best era to be young.”

We were seeking guidance with the Barron’s directory of colleges in planning the course of our future. She was Korean. I’m Filipino. She could have returned to Korea and I could have stayed in the Philippines, but we were to venture west, no matter what, because we could. For us, an earlier generation had already mobilized the Civil Rights Movement, ended two world wars, and invented the computer. We believed that with betamax, MTV, and Glasnost, technology in the ‘80s was evolving and social upheavals were rapidly occurring for us and because of us. No decade before had offered so much entertainment and so much freedom.

Man’s first walk on the moon was boring history. Michael Jackson’s moonwalk was a spectacular feat of human dexterity.

A TV with a channel dial was an antique. A touch-tone telephone was a piece of modern ingenuity.

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The fall of Saigon was a chapter in a textbook. People Power was a bloodless revolution that triumphed with the strength of our voices.

So we had international baccalaureate courses and advanced placement courses. For those of us who cared anything about the possibilities they offered, the International School Manila endowed us with high ideals to shape the future as magnificently as our predecessors had built the foundations of our present. The guarded gates that enclosed our premises protected us from the appalling reality of the starvation in Ethiopia and the litter-congested sewers of Tondo.

No dream was impossible.

Sometimes the worst of the outside world infiltrated our bubble. Classes were interrupted because of mysterious bomb threats that required us all to evacuate the school. The bombing of a Korean Airline by a stray Soviet missile and a hobie catting accident left a few seats empty in our classrooms.

Our parents might pronounce the ‘50s the best era to have been young. Rock n’ roll idealized the innocence of love with songs of heartfelt men in heartbreak hotels as they serenaded their women to love them tender, of shy affections blossoming into eternal devotion at twilight time. We just wanted someone with whom to get physical. If that enraged our elders, then we simply whined for our papas not to preach.

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An 18-year-old today might argue that nothing can beat coming of age in the midst of the 21st century’s miracles of communication. E-mail and the cellphone have made dear ones far away accessible at any time, any place. And who needs to step out the door when all that’s needed to survive can be purchased on the internet?

Valid points all. But the ‘80s will always be the most dazzling of decades. Red flags flew over Tiananmen Square. Edsa Avenue radiated the yellow of the sun. Benetton celebrated the racial eclecticism of humankind. Spandau Ballet declared that we were gold and indestructible. Every dawning day, the world erupted with the vibrant colors of a Rubik’s Cube.

The first question that arises in a high school reunion is if any of us has succeeded in painting the wide canvass of the world with the brilliance of our youthful ambitions. Then follow comments and questions of how dramatically we have aged, how youthful we have remained, how many children we have, who our spouses are.

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Of myself, I will say that I haven’t a strand of gray hair nor am I bald. I eat cookies, chocolate, and ice cream, but my waistline is still a 29. I dream and I anticipate tomorrow because, at 36, I feel younger than I ever have.

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